In my mind today, I'm thinking about hearts. All living animals have one. It's an involuntary muscle that is centered in the living being. Without it, we are dead, literally and metaphorically.
I'm thinking about conversations a fellow teacher and I used to have. We talked about hearts every year. Not just any old hearts, the hearts of our new batch of students. I'm sad to say many of their young hearts were damaged and sometimes beyond our repair in that short frame of time we were with them. We recognized those with hearts that were turned to stones from neglect, abuse, and even over-indulgence. I'm happy to say that most hearts we did touch and that was our most important goal of the school year.
With this vital information, our missions for the school year began. I hear too many administrative voices mumbling, "Hey, academics are what you should be focusing on as teachers. We have to leave no child behind, race to the top, be a level 5, or have achievement across spatial and temporal scales. Achievement has to be academic!" Boy, that stressed me out just putting it in black and white.
One of my dearest teaching buds text me the other day. She text, "I've got! I've got it! I now understand why we were so successful teaching students, but could never explain it!" It's true. Many, many times I've been asked, "How do you do it? The kids do whatever you want. This kid has NEVER been proficient at anything but driving students, teachers and administrators nuts. Come on tell us the magic formula!" I always found myself speechless and perplexed on how to express it. When my teaching bud text me, I was so excited to finally be able to articulate how we could be so successful in a profession that is failing on so many platforms: low salaries, high teacher to student ratios, students with so many deficits emotionally, pressure from the establishment, and lack of respect in the classroom.
Drum roll please. She said, "Sal, you loved the process versus the test scores!" I replied, "The process of teaching? Helping them acquire the skills? How about journey instead of process? The journey of each class and year was its own micro-society or family unit. The whole journey was interdependent on the people within a that unit. That's why I grieved at the end of each year. Literally our unit had to disperse and grow for the next step of their journey and ours as well." I so enjoyed recreating and researching to make my teaching years fresh and exciting. I wanted to be out of the box, inventive, and giving the students the latest and greatest teaching I could muster. How could I successfully do that each year reaching each diverse unit? I began by examining their individual hearts and opening mine to each and every single one of them. I searched for ways to connect with each one of them first before I ever started growing their dendrites, brain cells.
All great lessons have a hook, right? I hear my teaching buds out there giving their affirmations. Well, you my friend have to "hook" your students before they will ever grow the first brain cell. It is an arduous process, an exasperating journey, and also irreplaceable treasure. And I'm sad to say, it's not a very popular choice among teachers because it takes more time and effort than focusing on standards and teaching across the curriculum. I've had several teachers scoff at my pedagogy because you have to literally give of yourself in order for it to work. I wasn't concerned with accolades or gossiping with other teachers. I was working on helping my students. What is teaching supposed to be all about anyway?
So as I sit here reflecting in my mind about hearts, teaching, and new school years, I challenge teachers everywhere to begin this school year examining hearts not curriculum. This my friends is the way to make the world a brighter and better place. You should feel honored that you were gifted with such a valuable profession and sacred keys. I know it made my heart so happy.
"Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts."
Dedicated to all of my former teaching partners to whom I gathered, shared, and relished knowledge and children for twenty years.